Step Back in Time With Vintage Wheeling School Memorabilia

As a teacher, I often feel a mix of excitement and anxiety as we head back to school. There’s the thrill of shopping, setting up my classroom, and the anticipation of teaching a new group of students. But there’s also the fear of trying to accomplish so much in such a short amount of time. Meetings, lesson plans, and learning about all of your new students can be overwhelming, but I wouldn’t trade the excitement this time of year brings for any other job! 

As Wheeling Park High School social studies teacher and avid Wheeling memorabilia collector, I make an effort to hunt down any sort of artifact that relates to Ohio County Schools. Yearbooks may be one of my favorite items to collect because one book can tell the story of an entire school year through photographs. In my History of Wheeling class at WPHS, I often scan portions of a yearbook and create scavenger hunts for my students. 

This is not only one of my favorite activities, but students can become fascinated by a Triadelphia High School homecoming pep rally photograph, the types of basketball uniforms athletes wore in the 1920s, and the cultural changes they observe throughout the various yearbooks I assign. Some students have even found their relatives in the yearbooks, and I’ve found this lesson creates an overflow outside of the classroom as students converse with their family members about their own high school days. Whenever I assign one of these yearbooks my classroom is filled with constant chatter about what students are discovering from a past generation.

I’ve also discovered old school newspapers, varsity letters, pin backs, a football sweater from the 1930s purchased at Kennedy’s Hardware, sports programs, trophies, bricks from Wheeling High School, and paper items that have survived the trash can. A colleague at WPHS even gifted me with the old bell that was used at Wheeling High School! 

As everyone throughout the Ohio Valley is gearing up for back-to-school season, I thought it would be a great time to share some vintage school-related items. Specifically, a set of small booklets I acquired at a local estate sale this summer: The Directories of Wheeling Public Schools from 1919 to 1966. In 1935 the name was changed from Wheeling Public Schools to Ohio County Schools. 

A collection of Ohio County School directories.

These booklets would have been provided to teachers at the beginning of each school year. Each booklet contains the address and phone number of every school employee, from the superintendent to the janitors – they’re all listed.

As a teacher, this might be one of the most fascinating objects that I have collected! I can imagine these booklets being passed out or placed in teacher mailboxes. I can imagine teachers skimming through the book, looking for new names or changes that have occurred. Maybe a teacher scanning the calendar, planning ahead, and keeping the booklet in a safe place in case it’s needed to contact a colleague or maybe even call in sick. 

These objects were meant to have an informational use. A purpose for one year. But were they ever meant to be saved? Did teachers ever think that in the year 2023 another teacher would be pouring over the contents? I highly doubt it, but these little books provide a unique look into what was at one time a teacher’s lifeline.

While skimming through these booklets I’m also reminded of what must have been much simpler times. No computers or e-mails. No need to remember countless usernames and passwords. 

While scanning through the 1953-54 directory I thought it might be interesting to recall just how many schools operated in Ohio County. Here’s the list:

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  • Wheeling High
  • Triadelphia High
  • Warwood High
  • West Liberty High
  • Lincoln High (Col.)
  • McKinley Vocational High
  • Clay Junior High
  • Madison Junior High
  • Ritchie Junior High 
  • Bethlehem
  • Bridge Street
  • Centre
  • Clay Grade
  • Clinton Consolidated
  • Dunbar (Col.)
  • East 29th Street
  • Edginton Lane
  • Fulton
  • Greggsville
  • Jefferson Special
  • Kruger Street
  • Lincoln Grade (Col.)
  • Madison Grade
  • Middle Creek
  • Mozart
  • Park View
  • Ritchie
  • “S” Bridge
  • Steenrod
  • Triadelphia Grade
  • Valley Grove
  • Warwood Grade
  • Washington
  • Webster
  • West Liberty Grade
  • Woodsdale

In case you weren’t counting, that’s thirty-six schools! Many of these teachers lived within walking distance or a very short drive to their school, while others commuted from as far away as West Alexander, PA and St. Clairsville, Ohio. Sometimes while reading one of my old yearbooks, curiosity gets the best of me and I’ll often look up some of the staff members to see where they lived.

  • Year books from Wheeling and Triadelphia high schools.

These objects also show at a glance what it really takes to run a school system. Although consolidation has changed the makeup of Ohio County Schools, the one thing that has not changed is all of the vital school employees that come together every school year to facilitate, educate, transport, feed, clean, maintain, and keep the children of Ohio County safe. 

Best wishes and good luck to everyone going back to school this year!

• Ryan Stanton is a 2002 graduate of Wheeling Park High School. In 2006 he graduated from West Liberty State College with a bachelor’s degree in history and later earned a master’s degree in social studies education from West Virginia University. For 13 years, Ryan has been a social studies teacher at Wheeling Park High School where he teaches AP U.S. government and politics and the history of Wheeling.